Friday, November 2, 2012

Faith: Part I of A Mexican Trilogy by Evelina Fernández

L - R Esperanza America, Olivia Delgado, Alexis de la Rocha

By Joe Straw

“As a Latino living in America your whole life, who speaks both English and Spanish, do you dream in English or Spanish?” - Me

“That’s funny.  I don’t remember.  I only know that my dreams are pictures that take me places I haven’t been but want to go.” – A friend.

Anyone who knows The Latino Theatre Company knows the stage is in on the lower level at the beautiful Los Angeles Theatre Center.  To get down there, one must go down a flight of stairs, and then go down another set of stairs to get to your seat.   

Upstairs, on opening weekend near the bar, I spoke with Jose Luis Valenzuela, the Artistic Director of The Latino Theater Company at LATC, and the director of the play, about the future plans of this show and other exciting shows to come.   

Suddenly the theatre was open for seating. I walked down those flights of stairs and, as I sat down, I thought I was missing something.  The beautiful Scenic Design by Cameron Mock pleasantly distracted me. I pulled out my pen, and started to takes notes.  Then I realized that I left my note pad upstairs, on the table next to the bar guy.

“I’ve got to get my notes.” 

This is when the blood pressure rises, hearts starts beating, and my face burns with blood.  Notes from two shows, not written up – left – not good.  So I ran up the theatre stairs.  The lobby doors to the theatre were closed which meant the show was ready to begin, but it would only take a minute to run up another flight of stairs to get my pad and run back down again.

I opened the lobby door only to find “druids” rushing to the door blocking my access.

Realizing I’d miss the beginning.  I go back, make do, and have faith that my notes would be up there at intermission.  

Precipitously, the druids make their grand entrance, plotting a course in the night to reach an objective to set a woman on her life’s path.   It is an awe-inspiring opening moment of the show and sets the stage for wonderful events to happen this night.   

Faith: Part I of a Mexican Trilogy by Evelina Fernández and directed by José LuisValenzuela is the conclusion of the trilogy, Faith, Hope, and Charity by Ms. Fernández.  It is a wonderful and amazing end to the trilogy that is so beautifully constructed, and exquisitely written, one can’t help but be moved in many ways.  Faith is just one part of the three parts of a mystical ancestral experience of a Mexican family living in Arizona during the Depression, in the FDR era of the 1930’s and ‘40s, while surviving extreme poverty with dignity.  

On the stage, dressed in white, Young Esperanza (Olivia Delgado) is surrounded by the eight “druids”. They visit in the night, the eidolons, wrapped in burlap like garments, giving a directive, to the one who, in an emotional state of helplessness, accepts a truth - that she cannot speak a lie.  

And this leads young Esperanza to confession.  

“Forgive me Father for I have sinned.  It’s been a day since my last confession.” -  Young Esperanza

The priest (Matias Ponce) is exasperated knowing he has seen her the day before.  He asks Young Esperanza what she could have done in a day that requires another confession.  But, with her eyes open, and her eyebrows furrow, she confesses a truth without parting her lips.

Slowly, Young Esperanza declares her love. The priest, his face burning, his heart leaping, turns his dour eyes away, and tells her it is a sin.  He then stands, holds his rosary, and walks away.

Years later, Esperanza (Lucy Rodriguez) is the mother to three enchanting girls—Faith (Esperanza America), Charity (Alexis de la Rocha), and the youngest Elena (Olivia Delgado). Their voice, in song, is a strong diapason similar to the Andrew Sisters.   And they sit leaning into the radio to hear the vocal stylings of Ricardo Flores (Geoffrey Rivas) or “Ricky Flowers”.

L - R Olivia Delgado, Alexis de la Rocha, Evelina Fernandez, Lucy Rodriguez

Esperanza puts her girls to work embroidering sheets or tablecloths while they sit and gossip about family life.  Keeping them company is Esperanza’s comadre, Lupe (Evelina Fernádez). Esperanza spins her tales of running away from the Mexican Revolution, nearly starving to death, and settling in a small mining town in Arizona where Esperanza’s husband, Silvestre (Sal Lopez), works.  

Esperanza is concern that her husband will get into trouble for organizing the men at the mine. But it is the path or dream he has chosen to ensure, that all of his men are treated with dignity and paid a fair wage compared to their Anglo counterparts.

Sometimes the road to justice is injustice. - Lupe

Esperanza laments that she has not seen her mother, living in Mexico, in over 20 years. And Lupe confesses she has thoughts about young men but thinks she is too old.

“You look old because you smoke and drink Tequila.” – Elena

This thing about “not being able to lie” has affected them all.

Later Ricardo Flores or Ricky Flowers tells his listeners that he is having a talent contest and wants his listeners to enter.  The three girls are determined to enter much to the consternation of Esperanza who will have no part in this.

“Mom doesn’t let us do anything.” - Faith

Faith, being the oldest, takes matters into her hands. She decides they should go to go to the dance. She enlists their father to buy them shoes. Esperanza says they can’t afford it.  But Silvestre, observing the holes in their shoes, lovingly takes them to buy new shoes.  

Esperanza and Silvestre’s personal lives have taken dramatic turns over the course of their marriage.  Although they profess their love, she lies in a single bed, suffering the pain of a non-physical relationship or even a gentle caress from Silvestre. Their lives are a mysterious communion, a bond nearly broken by time and the weight of outside forces.   

At the dance, Esperanza tells the girls, they can dance with each other and not with boys. Esperanza leaves and two boys Charlie (Xavi Moreno) and Freddie (Matias Ponce) reach out to the girls to dance.  Faith wants nothing to do with Charlie, Freddie is infatuated with Charity, and Elena is too young to get someone.

Unknown to Esperanza, the three sisters enter the talent show at the dance. They manage to sing when their mother is not watching and they win!

The next day, the boys make their way to the girls’ home only to be chased away by Esperanza with a nasty looking broom.

Later, Ricardo Flores finds his way to the Esperanza’s home after seeing the girls sing at the dance and invites them to be in the amateur hour of his radio show.  Flores tells Esperanza he can do a lot for their careers.  Esperanza wants none of this.

“We don’t want to be like you.  We hate the way you are.” – Faith to Esperanza

More truth.

Later, Esperanza learns her mother is deathly ill.  She goes to Mexico, leaving Lupe in charge of the girls. That is when everything falls apart, or goes magnificently, depending on your perspective.

Jose Luis Valenzuela has put together an outstanding cast of players in this production that brings marvelous attention to their craft. Each is strong in their own way and is a compliment to each other and to the play.

Esperanza America does a fantastic job as Faith. As the character, it is her faith that carries her objective.  Happy, she never seemed until she lifts her voice in song.  She is strong willed with the conviction of her faith, faith in herself, and faith that she will become a singer and entertainer.  Faith has a wry sense of humor and knows what buttons to push to get her way, with her sisters, her mother, her father, and anyone else that may get into her path. America has a very fine singing voice and does a marvelous job in a role that showcases her wonderful talent.   

Alexis de la Rocha plays Charity and is a rock solid character with a beautiful voice. Rocha breathes an incredible life into Charity, which is a difficult task because she is stuck between the extremes of the younger and older sister.  Nevertheless, it is a beautiful portrayal of a dreamer who gets caught up in the life of another young man.

Olivia Delgado plays Elena and Young Esperanza.  Elena is the youngest of the three sisters and the most sensitive.  She is caught off guard by her sister’s constant verbal onslaughts that tear her sensitive soul to pieces for which she seeks refuge to anyone who may help her in her time of need.  As Young Esperanza, she is totally infatuated with the priest, so much so, that she must hurry to confession daily. She has a special cantrip that works for her, possibly her youth and beauty.  Delgado does a terrific job with her characters, she sparkles with ingenuity, and has a very special brand of creativity that is imaginative and is wonderful to watch.  

Evelina Fernández is Lupe, friend of the family.  Lupe is always on the lookout for a man. She is inquisitive and has lustful thoughts of young men and is willing to party with the best of them. So she is not the best person to look after three virginal teenage daughters. It is a job she is not up to.  Lupe is also very funny and keeps the tragic moments light.  Also, Fernández has a moment alone on stage that is heartbreaking and touching all in the same moment.  

L - R Sal Lopez, Alexis de la Rocha, Matias Ponce

Sal Lopez holds his arms at an obtuse angle and he lifts his head high as though he speaks to the heavens. As Silvestre, he tries to care for his girls, giving them what they need, despite the onslaught from his partner.  He cares for his wife but has an overriding desire for a higher calling, a calling to help his fellow miners get a better wage. Lopez does some terrific work in this show.  It is probably the finest work of all the things I’ve seen him in over the years.  And, he has a wonderful singing voice to throw into the mix of his carefully crafted work.   

Xavi Moreno has some funny moments as Charlie.  He is a fish out of water and seeks desperately to find a mate. His character tugs at his fingers with an anxiety befitting a man without hope or faith that he will find anyone to help him start a family, ever.  Still, Moreno is very likeable in his “fish out of water” portrayal.

Matias Ponce plays Freddie and the Priest. There is an inner truth to Ponce’s work.  It is simple and effective.  As Freddie, he does a lot to get the girl of his dreams.  He woos her by coming alone and offering her an unadorned truth that pulls the girls of his dreams into his embrace. Tall and statuesque, Ponce has a very good look and a leading man quality.    

Geoffrey Rivas as Ricardo Flores the radio announcer.  Flores has a lot of charm trying to find a personality to make him money.  He has a number in this show.  (And to this day, after seeing him as Rudy in La Bamba, I still do not know if he can sing.) Still, the number was a very funny moment in this show.  Flores is very tricky stealing away one of the girls.  It is a slight of hand that, a moment that worked effectively, but could be taken to up a notch. Still, Rivas handles the roll with extreme dexterity that gives this complicated character a real bite.  

Lucy Rodriguez as Esperanza has an important part as the matriarch of the family.  She looks after her three girls until her mother becomes sick.  She is overbearing, dominant, and counts every penny to the detriment of all involved.  Esperanza holds on to a secret, that she doesn’t share with her daughters.  It is the reason she was forced to move from Mexico to Arizona, but life didn’t turn out as planned. And now, she is trapped in a foreign country, in a relationship that is secretly unsatisfying, and living an unsatisfactory life. She doesn’t want her daughters trapped, the way she has trapped herself. It’s funny that she cannot tell a lie and also interesting that she is not forthcoming with the truth.  

Evelina Fernández, the writer, has written a magnificent play with characters struggling for a small piece of the American pie in the brutal Arizona heat. The multi-dimensional characters each have an idea of what would make a satisfying life and they go about to secure that life as a means to an end.  They all have faith that one day their dreams will be fulfilled, some day, and one way. In the end, Fernández gives us a remarkable truth of the Latino experience. One can feel the honesty of those moments.  And to top everything off I believe it is some of Ms. Fernández’s finest work.  Faith captures her spirit and the spirit of the Latino community.  

José Luis Valenzuela, the director, does a magnificent job with an extremely magnificent cast.  There are a lot of things going on and the movements and singing are seamless in this presentation of a World Premier production.  I don’t know where Valenzuela finds the time to put all this together.  Perhaps it is a miracle of Faith.

Beautiful Scenic & Lighting Design is by Cameron Mock.  The covered furniture upstage left in a nice touch of Esperanza not wanted her furniture dusty.  I’m told this is a working class ethnic thing.  In any case, it is a very nice touch.

Daniel Tator, the Sound Designer, does a tremendous job.

Rosino Serrano, the Musical Director, did a fantastic job recreating the ‘40s music, which the girls sing.  It was unexpected and marvelous.  

Costume Design by Carlos Brown for the working class family was superb. The Choreographer for the nice dance numbers was by Urbanie Lucero.

The Stage Manager was Henry “Heno” Fernandez and the Assistant Stage Manager is Fidel Gomez.

Run!  And take someone you love and haven’t seen in a long time.

EXTENDED: Through November 18th,  2012

Online Ticketing:

Reservations: 866-811-4111

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